The G-File

Politics & Policy

Progressives Can’t Seem to Stick to Any Principle . . . Except More Government

Sanders and Clinton at the Democratic debate in Las Vegas. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (especially those of you who expected so much more from this dear-reader gag),

Watching last night’s Democratic presidential debate, I came to several conclusions. They are in no particular order:

1. I don’t get paid nearly enough.

2. My feet are cold too much these days, I need to wear warmer socks around the house.

#ad#3. Bernie Sanders is the most typecast presidential candidate of my lifetime. What I mean is that I can’t remember another presidential candidate who I could more easily imagine in a different setting. For instance, there’s a Starbucks near me in D.C. where old Reds take time off from yelling at clouds to get together and tsk-tsk the newspapers and talk about how much they hate Fox News. I wrote a big chunk of Liberal Fascism there (if they only knew!). I’d eavesdrop as they’d rail about Israel, billionaires, and their sciatica. Bernie Sanders could join them tomorrow in dirty Bermuda shorts, black socks, and tennis shoes, and seem perfectly at home there as they kept bringing up the overthrow of Allende as if it had happened last week. I could also think of a dozen other settings where he wouldn’t stand out. I could see him in a bathrobe walking down the promenade in Santa Monica. I could see him yelling at kids crossing his lawn on the way home from school. “Young men!” he’d shout, shaking his fist, “Shame on you!” Sanders’s familiarity is interesting because it makes him charming, but not altogether likeable (sort of like how critics used to say, a bit unfairly, that Sarah Jessica Parker was sexy but not pretty). I suspect I would find Sanders utterly tedious if I had to sit and converse with him for very long. But as a politician he’s compelling, like a basset hound dressed up in a Prussian military uniform, he takes himself so seriously and that makes him endearing.

In a very weird way, Hillary’s whole sales pitch is Trumpian: It’s all about me, me, me.

4. Hillary Clinton has no message. At this point, this is hardly an original thought. But the best evidence for it is that in all of these Democratic debates, Hillary ends up having to talk about Bernie Sanders’s One Big Issue for most of the time because she doesn’t have one. Sanders is often ridiculous in the way he tries to make everything about millionaires and billionaires and Wall Street. Hillary Clinton is right when she says that this is not a “single-issue country.” But there is no theme to the Clintonian pudding, to mangle a Churchillian phrase. In a very weird way, her whole sales pitch is Trumpian: It’s all about me, me, me. Her flip flops, triangulations, and the rest are supposedly justified by the fact she’s just so awesome. Her only problem: There’s really no awesomeness to Hillary. She’s promising “wins” too, but in the language of a bureaucrat. Her mix of condescension and pandering flattery (or flattering pandery) reminds me of a certain kind of overeducated saleswoman at, say, a Barnes and Noble, desperate to sell you a membership discount card, but clueless about how to close the deal save to talk down to you.

5. We’re running low on scotch.

6. Bernie Sanders slandered Herbert Hoover, at least on Sanders’s terms. When asked what politicians he admired most, his first answer was FDR, which was less surprising than the realization that if I drop steak on the floor, my dog will eat it. He said of FDR:

And then what he did is redefine the role of government. You know, you had Herbert Hoover before that saying, no, we got to only worry about the deficit. So what if mass unemployment exists? So what if children are going hungry? That’s not the role of the government.

And when FDR said, “Yeah, it is,” that we’re going to use all of the resources that we have to create jobs, to build homes, to feed people, to protect the farmers, we are a nation which if we come together there is nothing that we could not accomplish.

First of all, I am really sick of this idea that if we all come together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. If we are unified around the idea that Mars should have a breathable atmosphere, will that suddenly happen? If we all agree that Lena Dunham should be a sex symbol, will we get any closer to that being true? If 100 percent of us agree that bears must use indoor bathrooms, will they magically leave their wooded toilets behind them?

Indeed, this whole idea that if we just rally the people to some grand cause we can get it done is simply gross. It’s Five Year Plan talk. It’s how dictators justify monuments and totalitarians bully dissidents. If only someone wrote a book about this. Oh, and it doesn’t work. North Korea’s economy isn’t suffering from a lack of unity or participation.

Where was I? Right. Hoover. I’m not a big fan of Herbert Hoover, but the notion that he was this heartless bastard cheapskate is total mythmaking. Even William Leuchtenburg, the dean of New Deal historians, has conceded that “almost every historian now recognizes that the image of Hoover as a ‘do-nothing’ president is inaccurate.” Indeed, the sad fact is that if Hoover had done nothing, the Great Depression probably would never have become Great in the first place. Doing nothing did wonders for the Depression of 1920–21.

Hoover was the father of the New Deal (and Woodrow Wilson was the grandfather). As I’ve written many times before in this “news”letter, Hoover was a progressive Republican. Here’s how he defended himself at the GOP convention in 1932:

Two courses were open to us. We might have done nothing. That would have been utter ruin. Instead, we met the situation with proposals to private business and to the Congress of the most gigantic program of economic defense and counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic. We put that program in action. Our measures have repelled these attacks of fear and panic. . . . We have used the credit of the Government to aid and protect our institutions, both public and private. We have provided methods and assurances that none suffer from hunger or cold amongst our people. We have instituted measures to assist our farmers and our homeowners. We have created vast agencies for employment.

I guess I should probably stop with the bullet points already. So I’ll end with:

7. You can’t trust liberals.


Progressivism: It Never Ends

Watching Sanders and Clinton last night, two things were obvious. First, the sexual tension was palpable. It was like they were auditioning for a remake of Cocoon.*

Second, as with previous debates, both candidates spent a huge amount of time talking about how much more intrusive the government needs to be when it comes to health care. One candidate said it needs to be a lot more intrusive, the other said it should be much, much, much, much, more intrusive.

This shouldn’t be surprising except for the fact that we were told — quite a lot — that Obamacare had fixed our broken health-care system. I recall someone saying it was an effing big deal or some such. And yet, even before it’s fully implemented, we’re now being told we need so much more.

The exact same dynamic is at work for Wall Street regulations. With Dodd Frank, the Democrats passed some huge — and hugely awful — legislation to regulate Wall Street. Both candidates agree that so much more needs to be done. Their disagreement has nothing to do with direction, only velocity.

More government is the one indispensable conviction of modern progressivism. Everything else is up for negotiation.

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and countless other Democrats insisted they opposed same-sex marriage. Conservatives said they were lying. Democrats protested, often with great and haughty indignation. They said it was outrageous to question their commitment to traditional family values, religious principle, etc. And then, when the issue was ripe, they “evolved.” Now, I always believed that Obama and Clinton were liars when it came to gay marriage (and not just gay marriage). But even if that weren’t the case, it doesn’t change the fact that liberals can’t be relied upon to stick to any principle if that principle becomes remotely inconvenient.

Except one: More government.

Progressives are the car salesmen of the State, and there’s always more undercoating to sell.

More government is the one indispensable conviction of modern progressivism. Everything else is up for negotiation.

When they were asked about reducing government last night, we got the usual word fog about eliminating duplicative programs and other inefficiencies. I am in favor of that stuff too, of course. But cutting inefficiency has very, very little to do with reducing the size of government and may in fact increase the scope of government.

A mobster’s goons can be really inefficient in how they go about shaking down local businesses for protection money. “Stop taking the bus!” the Godfather might yell. Or, “When they ask to show you pictures of their kids, say ‘No!’” Making the thugs more efficient is good for business, but that doesn’t make the business good. Now, the government isn’t perfectly analogous to the mob (don’t tell Kevin Williamson), but that doesn’t mean it should be doing everything it does, either.


Socialism Is Back

I’d intended to make this “news”letter an extended riff on the subject of William Voegeli’s essential book, Never Enough. Bill’s point is simply that liberalism is politically, psychologically, fundamentally, metaphysically, ontologically, structurally, and morally incapable of articulating and then sticking to a limiting principle for government. But I have written about all that before.

Instead it occurs to me that the best single illustration of what I mean — and Voegeli’s point — is the inability of the Democratic party to state in clear and simple terms how it differs from socialism. They can’t do it. Or at the very least they won’t do it, and in politics “won’t” very often means “can’t.”

RELATED: Is Socialism Making a Comeback?

We all know how many times the titular head of the Democratic party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has been asked to distinguish between socialism and whatever dog’s breakfast the Democratic party stands for. Clinton gets asked that question often as well, and usually responds with her patented “I Don’t Like Your Question So I Will Laugh To Distract You” Cackle®.

For generations, if a conservative said there was no difference between Democrats and socialists (however defined!), liberal eyes would roll right out of their heads. Such statements were like gassy flares from the fever swamps of the cranky, crazy American Right. Even at the dawn of the Obama administration, this was still the case. Indeed, I wrote a perfectly reasonable and reasoned piece for Commentary asking, “What Kind of Socialist Is Barack Obama?” (My answer: a neo-socialist). Liberals tittered and scoffed.

And now, because a septuagenarian (self-described) socialist is popular with the kids today, it is now verboten to suggest there is a difference between Democrats and socialists.

Whatever socialism is — or isn’t — it hasn’t changed in the last ten months. What’s changed is the rigidity of liberal spines. They’ve gone from flexible to flaccid to liquefaction. And that’s why you can never trust them, even when you agree with them. They’ll always want more, because more is the only thing they really believe in.

Get Free Exclusive NR Content

Various & Sundry

My column from yesterday is on Gnosticism, e-mail spam, and the state of our politics. It’s one of the rare columns that I simply enjoyed writing (while sitting on a bench for smokers at my hotel in Florida yesterday). I kinda have Gnosticism on the brain these days because of the book I’m (supposed to be) writing. Anyway, I certainly enjoyed writing it more than this “news”letter.

Doggie Update: So I’ve been travelling a lot lately. Over the last two weeks, I’ve been in California, Florida (twice), New Hampshire, and New York City. So I’ve missed some quality time with the beasts. Yesterday the Fair Jessica took the girls to the dog park. On the trail heading back to the car, all was fine . . . until Zoë stumbled upon a woman in the woods, way off the path, which is very strange. The woman didn’t have a dog with her and seemed to be a little altered, like she was on medication or had some other issues. She scared the dingo and vice versa apparently. So the dingo barked at her “What are you doing in the woods!?” The woman said something similar. Zoë followed the lady out to the street and actually into the road, where rush hour cars had to stop for the whole weird scene. No one was hurt, but it was a bad experience for all concerned. Meanwhile, Pippa is simply a two-speed dog. She’s either a boneless sack in the general shape of a canine, or she is a frantic fetching and sniffing machine whose batteries must be drained before she can revert back to bonelessness.

I will be speaking at Furman University on Feb. 23 (details to come).

*The joke above about Bernie and Hillary being hot for one another is a bit of recycling from the really fun event we did in New Hampshire last Saturday. The GLoP pre-debate panel went well, the post-debate part . . . perhaps not so much. Either way, you can listen to it all here. Don’t miss my story about my cab ride from the airport!

And here’s other stuff.

Debby’s Valentine’s Day Friday links

Has Hillary Clinton dramatically reduced the popularity of the name “Hillary”?

Wife crashes own funeral, horrifies husband who paid to kill her

How generations get their names

If movies ended when a character said the title

They didn’t kill them when they had the chance

The Mexican standoff in movies

When movie villains smile

America’s most and least religious states

Gale-force winds blow water back up waterfall

Snowball machine gun

A Disney princess conspiracy?

Calvin and Hobbes meets The Force Awakens

Are we due for an extinction event on Earth?

(SMOD says yes)

SMOD teases us: Meteorite kills man in India

A breakdown of selfie-related deaths

Squirrel befriends man

Giant bunny will conquer us all

A five-minute history of photography

Florida man arrested for tossing alligator into Wendy’s

Do animals feel empathy?

Behold: a horde of dancing Chinese robots

Australian billionaire to build an exact replica of . . . the Titanic?

The optimal search strategy for finding Waldo

How music changes your mood

Zombie vs. shark

A map of where U.K. shows take place

Is Siri killing regional accents?

Does attending religious services make men happier?

Puppy’s first time in the snow

Most Popular


It’s Time to Attack Putin’s Soft Underbelly

Vladimir Putin was reelected president of Russia today in an event as predictable as the sun’s rising. But his biggest asset hasn’t been his iron grip on Russian politics, it’s been the fecklessness and passivity of his Western counterparts in the face of his outrageous actions. Garry Kasparov, the former ... Read More
White House

John Brennan Freaks Out on Twitter

Former CIA director John Brennan issued a stinging rebuttal to President Donald Trump's Thursday tweet celebrating the dismissal of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. Brennan, who led the CIA under President Barack Obama, referred to Trump as a “demagogue” and hinted that damning evidence of ... Read More


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone. Hope it has been a good one. Yesterday, I had a tale in my Impromptus column. I had been to Harvard, to conduct a couple of interviews, and I waxed nostalgic. In Widener Library, there are bag-checkers -- people checking your bags on your way out. Ages ago, there was this ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Hillary’s Other America

I am still chuckling at Hillary Clinton’s speech in India. Among the things she said: If you look at the map of the United States, there is all that red in the middle, places where Trump won. What that map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that own two thirds of America’s Gross Domestic product. ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Samantha Power Regrets

‘I’ve had a lot of bad ideas in my life,” former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power tells Politico. “Though none as immortalized as that one.” Wow. It’s a major concession. And what might “that one” be? Not standing idly by in the White House while Iranians protested a fixed election in 2009, then ... Read More